Fantasy Owners Are Buying the Wrong Breakout Tight End
In fantasy football, one of the toughest things to identify is breakout players, but identifying these breakouts is a big part of winning fantasy leagues. Eric Ebron looks like a premier breakout candidate this season because of his age, previous production, and average draft position.
Age is one of the most important variables when discussing football players. It gives us a good idea of when players break out, peak, and decline.
To find out when tight ends peak, I looked at the ages of every TE since 2000 who had at least 60 receptions for 700 yards and six touchdowns. Using the RotoViz Screener, the sample size amounted to 60. Each season is listed in the table below:
This is a distribution graph of the ages:
While the average age is 27.6 yards old, the peak year appears to be 25. An astonishing 20 percent of the seasons happened at age 25. Ebron turns 25 next April. We might be a year early but there are reasons for optimism in 2017. Also noteworthy, RotoDoc found that Ebron was a borderline top tier TE or an upper-level mid-tier TE, both of which have peak seasons around age 26.
Ebron has the draft pedigree – 10th overall in the 2014 NFL Draft1 – and prior production that indicates future success. Ebron is one of 12 tight ends since 2000 to average at least 50 receiving yards per game before turning 24 years old.
It’s a promising list and a sign that he should keep improving.
Average Draft Position
For a player who has many indicators pointing in a favorable direction, you would expect to be forced to pay a hefty price. According to Fantasy Football Calculator, Ebron is being selected, on average, as TE16 in standard leagues and TE14 in PPR. That puts him behind the likes of Hunter Henry and O.J. Howard.
By season’s end it’s likely that he outscores those players – and he’s coming at cheaper price.
In early MFL10s, where the crowd is a little more astute, Ebron is currently being drafted as TE12.
I took a close look at Ebron and the Lions offense using the Projection Machine. After seeing 11.2 percent of the Lions’ targets in his second season, Ebron received 14.7 percent last season. Since Ebron should still be ascending, it’s fair to expect another jump.
For those familiar with the Projection Machine, I put Ebron’s catch rate and yards per target at his 2016 of 71.8 percent and 8.37, respectively.2 In 2016 Ebron’s TD rate was so disappointing that only one other player in 2016 (Jermaine Kearse) saw at least 85 targets and recorded only one TD. Since Ebron recorded a TD rate of 7.1 percent in 2015 – and the average TD rate for a primary TE is 5.0 percent – I gave him a bump to the still modest 4.2 percent.
However, there are reasons for optimism about Ebron potentially improving his touchdown rate even further. 1) His TE similarity scores expect a bump in N+1 season. 2) The Lions lack proven red zone weapons.
The middle projection would have made Ebron the TE7 in 2016, scoring 11.21 fantasy points per game. When comparing this per game projection to the Similarity Score app, our per game projection is low. The Similarity Score App gives Ebron the following per game points in PPR:
Eric Ebron’s prior production at a young age gives us reason to believe that he can be a really good player. As he continues to improve, one has to wonder if this is the year that he’ll become a valuable weapon in fantasy football. The current state of the Lions offense and his cheap price tag combine to make Ebron a potential league-winning pick.
It doesn’t hurt that Jim Caldwell said in May, “Ebron just keeps getting better.”
When he’s not searching for ways to defeat his opponents, Mike Braude spends his time finding ways to remove the randomness of fantasy football and reward the most skilled fantasy owners. He has remedied this issue by creating Apex Fantasy Football Money Leagues.